Thursday, January 17, 2019

Lloyd Schwartz Named Somerville’s Third Poet Laureate

Lloyd Schwartz Named Somerville’s Third Poet Laureate
Somerville resident and accomplished poet, Schwartz will serve a two-year term.

SOMERVILLE – The City of Somerville announced this week its third Poet Laureate, Lloyd Schwartz. Schwartz is a Somerville resident with an impressive literary background including his current work as the Frederick S. Troy Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Boston. His poetry collections include These People;Goodnight, Gracie; Cairo Traffic; and most recently, Little Kisses (University of Chicago Press). His poems have been published in, among many other journals, The New Yorker, Poetry, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Agni, Consequence, and Ploughshares, and have been selected for the Pushcart Prize, The Best American Poetry (three times)and The Best of the Best American Poetry.

“Somerville has so much creative energy and power, and we are well known for our vibrant arts scene. Similarly, we have a talented, well-educated, and thoughtful writer’s community that needs a voice. In Lloyd Schwartz, Somerville gains a tremendous advocate and partner for the writing arts, and I am proud to welcome him as our City’s third Poet Laureate,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone.

The City created the Poet Laureate position in 2015 to enhance the profile of poets and poetry in Somerville and surrounding communities. The Poet Laureate is expected to bring poetry to segments of the community that currently have less access or exposure to poetry: senior citizens, youth, and schools. Appointed by the Mayor, the Poet Laureate will serve a two-year term and will receive an honorarium of $2,000 per year.

“Lloyd’s work is poised and insightful, and I think it will really resonate with the Somerville community,” said Gregory Jenkins, Director of the Somerville Arts Council. “He conveyed a thoughtful perspective on his approach to this position, and has a passion for promoting poetry through his teaching.  We’ve gained an impressive ambassador in Lloyd Schwartz.”

I’m honored to have been chosen Somerville’s new poet laureate. I’ve been living and writing in—and writing about—this city for nearly 35 years. It’s come to feel like home. I love its down-to-earth spirit and its increasing inclusivity. Having spent my whole adult life bringing poetry to my students, I value the chance to encourage my neighbors to love poetry as much as I do,” said Lloyd Schwartz. 
Schwartz was chosen based on a series of criteria, including excellence in craftsmanship, professional achievement, and creating a vision for the position. A panel composed of four local poets— Doug Holder, Harris Gardner, Linda Conte, and Hilary Sallick—reviewed applicant work, interviewed candidates, and ultimately chose Schwartz.

As a panelist on the Somerville Art Council's Poet Laureate panel I am pleased to announce that Lloyd Schwartz will be our new poet laureate. All panel members were impressed with Schwartz's experience, commitment, and poetry. We feel he will raise the poet laureate position to even a higher level,” said Doug Holder.

Jackie Rossetti
Deputy Director of Communications
City of Somerville
617-625-6600 ext 2614

Feb 12, 2019 7PM Newton Free Library Poetry Series Begins!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Doug Holder Interviews Philosopher Richard Oxenberg about--On the Meanin...

On the Meaning of Human Being By Richard Oxenberg

On the Meaning of Human Being
By Richard Oxenberg
Political Animal Press
ISBN: 978-1-895131-30-7
248 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Not since Saint Thomas Aquinas channeled Aristotle by way of Boethius in Summa Theologica has philosophy and theology met in such an unexpected and enlightened way. Richard Oxenberg in his new book, On the Meaning of Human Being, Heidegger and the Bible in Dialogue, uses a framework employed by the estimable (and somewhat infamous) Martin Heidegger to get at the ethical basis of humanity and the relevance of religion in the twenty-first century.

The first half of the Oxenberg book sets up his secular and foundational approach as well as developing a tool box of helpful terms and delving philosophic concepts. His choice of Heidegger seems at first rather odd (more on that later) and then… and then… not so much. Being and Time, Heidegger’s breakthrough work of phenomenological investigations, is clearly up to the task. Oxenberg manipulates Heidegger’s perceptions masterfully, architecturally structuring his own original arguments from them with deftness and certainty.

Human Being, as defined by Heidegger/ Oxenberg, exists as more than an entity. It is rather a subject connected to objects which are influenced by pretty spooky forces. Oxenberg explores this complex world with verbs that signify value such as “care” and “matter” as in “we care about things” or “things matter to us.” Each object is an object because of a subject’s concern. According to Oxenberg this concern is basic to Being. In his dialectic Being exists not only in a space-time dimension, but also in a qualitative or axiological dimension. The values intrinsic to this dimension are inseparable from Being itself. Humans derive meaning from mattering. Goodness mattered to Plato and Aristotle and also matters to Judao-Christianity and the basis of these sets of beliefs match up in uncanny ways.

Oxenberg deals with the estrangement of theology and philosophy forthwith and without hesitation. Rene Descartes is quickly fingered as the evil genius and historical bad guy and his philosophical dualism, although spectacularly successful in mechanistic living, entices questioning seekers down the wrong rabbit hole in mankind’s search for meaning and truth. According to Oxenberg/ Heidegger Cartesian facts are nothing more than abstractions of our “caring about things.” When humans set their sights on an object (a desk, a chair, a friend, themselves) they do so for the sake of something. Subjects project that value onto their object and this defines meaning. The subject cannot be separated from the object, and thus this is not a subjective process. Nor can this be considered objective. It is a process of projection that extends into the future and back to the past, and it must be understood as a whole.

Heidegger calls his re-envisioned human being Dasein or Being-in-the-World. Each Dasein can be described as Being-towards-Death, that is, authentic being, or Das Man, that is, inauthentic being. Later on Oxenberg describes yet another mode of existence he terms Being-towards-Life offered by Judeo-Christianity. Soren Kierkegaard points out man’s alienation when confronting death in his arguably authentic life. Anxiety causes this Being, a being lost to existential despair, to seek eternal life to fulfill himself. Eternal, by the way, is not necessarily defined in temporal terms. Oxenberg goes to great lengths to describe its qualitative fabric.

Curiously, early in the book Oxenberg states that modern scientific thought deliberately “seeks to discount the subjective concerns of the observer in an effort to provide a strictly “objective” account of reality.” He argues that this viewpoint results in a distorted understanding of Being. Oxenberg is right on both counts, of course, if he is referring to Newtonian science and mathematics and I think he is. But he would not be right if he were referring to the bane of Einstein’s original and elegant theoretical inclinations (God does not play dice with the world)—quantum physics. In fact it is impossible to read Oxenberg’s description of Heidegger’s phenomenological ontology without one’s mind wandering into the realm of quantum mechanics (think Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principal and the Double Slit Experiment). In this quantum world the observer by his very observing alters his object. Also in this world exotic particles demonstrate invisible connections over space and time. This spookiness, begging for theological answers, finds its equivalent in Heidegger’s concepts and buttresses, in an architectural sense, Oxenberg’s theological explorations.

Heidigger, who in his life purported to seek authenticity with the same zeal that Aristotle sought goodness, joined the German Nazi Party before World War II. His supporters argue that he did so for career purposes and never became an active party member. Maybe. Oxenberg does rehash those sorry facts in a brief and unsatisfying attempt to understand Heidegger’s disastrous move. In fairness, Oxenberg had no choice, his use of Heidegger’s analytic necessitates some kind of explanatory comment. Ignominy can’t be ignored in the midst of righteous exploration.

In the second half of the book Oxenberg creates a rapprochement of sorts between philosophy and religion. He aims to accomplish this by explicating the Old and New Testaments with the use of Heidegger’s already developed hermeneutical tools. Heidegger would not have approved. That said, Oxenberg’s approach I think succeeds, and succeeds startling well at that. His understanding of language raises up Jewish and Christian traditions to a connective level of philosophical symbolism. His coverage includes the iconic stories within Genesis, as well as the biblical Jesus Christ. His analysis of the Christ as messiah and the appellations of the Son of Man used by Christ himself and the Son of God used by the Christian faithful hit the mark. The human spirit seems to transfigure into the Spirit of God, a oneness more often acknowledged by mystics, traditional Buddhism, and other eastern religions.

Oxenberg makes no claim for Christian exclusivism, but he does argue for the “existential disposition” of Christ’s revealed teachings. The Spirit of Christ becomes for Oxenberg a mode of Being-in–the–World that gives the slip to the proponents of existentialism (Jean-Paul Sartre, Camus, et al) and seeks the goodness of love and community. Religious beliefs for Oxenberg seem to merge in a rarified metaphorical and transcendent, but no less real philosophic, realm. Paul Tillich, Thomas Merton and others have followed similar lines of reasoned mysticism. Keep in mind that Aristotle identified contemplation as the highest form of happiness. In any case, Oxenberg is in good company.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Memoirist/Poet George Ellenbogen: A Montreal native son talks about his coming of age as a writer in the Jewish section of the city in the 40s and 50s.

I talked with  George Ellenbogen on my Somerville Media Center Show--Poet to Poet/to Writer to Writer-- about his new memoir of childhood and adolescence, "A Stone in my Shoe: In Search of Neighborhood"

Doug Holder: What essentially were the pros and cons of living in a close knit Jewish community in Montreal during the 40s and 50s?

George Ellenbogen:  Well--it was in a sense it was a homogeneous neighborhood. The street I lived on--only one family was not Jewish. The high school that I went to had 1100 kids, probably not more than a half-dozen were Jewish. In essence it was a ghetto. I suppose growing up in a culture like that there is a certain cultural deprivation from the rest of the world. Living in Montreal was like living in a tugboat between an English man-of-war  and a French man- of- war.

Though--it was very comforting in a way. My grandmother , cousins, etc... were a block or two away. There was a sense of familiarity. And of course there were Jews from different parts of Europe-- Russia, France, the Baltic, etc... When I left my immediate neighborhood to go to McGill  University to get my undergraduate degree it was like going to a strange country without any passport. It was very unreal for a Jewish kid from a cloistered community.

DH:  You told me you knew the famed poet/singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen. Cohen grew up in Montreal and went to McGill.

GE:  Yes Cohen was at McGill. He had a number of books in the McGill Poetry Series. The last time I saw him was in Montreal--1959. I told him I was going to England. He said, " Send me your address--I am going there too." I eventually saw him in London. We sat on a street curb and just talked until 3 AM. Later he went to Haifa and I never saw him again. I think Cohen was the most talented poet to come out of Canada. His first book was wonderful. I didn't know him when he became a cultural icon. His songs didn't grab me. But in his early poems there was great music to his writing. You would have to go back to Ben Johnson to see how incredible he was.
DH:  I did my thesis on food in the literature of Henry Roth. I traced the assimilation of Roth's protagonist in his novel " Call it Sleep" by the food he ate.  Food maybe viewed by some as trivial. But you include a lot of it in your memoir.

GE: Of course food is the community glue. I remember an aunt of mine said I was a "long noodle" and I would never amount to much. But look--food is essential to every culture. It is a picture of people sitting around a table a table sharing things that they like---it could be called a centerpiece of celebration. When I went to the larger world of McGill- I ate the food of the gentile world--ham, was sort of symbolic of the world citizen I was about to be become.

The Scottish Book of the Dead A novel by Gavin Broom

Gavin Broom

The Scottish Book of the Dead
A novel by Gavin Broom
Island City Publishing LLC
Review by Timothy Gager

If you’re Elisabeth Kübler-Ross you’ve had a widely accepted theory about the five stages of death and dying. If you are the author, Gavin Broom, your characters get to experience two of them, (maybe three, without giving away the ending) the denial stage and the anger stage. In The Scottish Book of the Dead, a father dies and it brings a dysfunctional family together in one location to deal with his death, and to pick up the pieces of their own lives. These characters, the son, the runaway ex-wife, the brother, and the sister-in-law all must address their shortcomings and their past, while attempting to close a chapter with someone else’s.

In humanity, we all deal with death in different ways, whether it’s diving into side projects (needing to clean out the person’s belongings immediately), quitting a job, or traveling across the world to see a son you’ve not seen in an eternity. Truth is that when someone close dies, each of us die a little ourselves. Broom takes us through this in short, stunning chapters, and in four distinct varied sections. He presents the insanity, real or imagined of the physical and mental world during a pivotal life event. Broom strikes a chord using various writing techniques which show that things aren’t what they look like or appear to be. Often, when a family member dies, people can go a bit crazy, but as you read through the layers of The Scottish Book of the Dead, the world as we know it, also, doesn’t seem based in reality. Author, Broom, allows us to wrestle with the metaphysics of this, but then often, the reality becomes a metaphor, and/or the metaphor becomes the reality. For example, when an earthquake hits, opening up a large crack in the ground, son Adam throws an item of his dead father into the bottomless hole. Later this same item re-appears back at the father’s house. We understand that this empty hole, is the wound, and emptiness, we feel when we lose someone. By using this technique, he puts the reader in a familiar emotional place, a place many of us have been who have attended at an actual funeral, where the feelings of displacement, combined with the lack of sleep from the night before gives off a surreal kind of vibe. In fact, many of the characters, in the different sections have gone on without much sleep for large periods of time, thus changing their mental statuses.

The author, born in Scotland, captures Scottish dialect within the novel. Though this may be distracting for some, it creates authenticity within the text. The sound of the pages are just one of the layers of this multi-layered book. The questioning of reality, and of grieving is another. Perhaps there are more stages of death Kübler-Ross has ignored, which author Broom gives us front row seats to---the stages of guilt and obligation. This is shown again, and again, the characters continuing on, overcoming these stages, only to arrive at a decent emotional place by the end of the book. The Scottish Book of the Dead, is not light reading, but there is enough humor, magic, and philosophy mixed in to not bury us in a giant hole of sadness.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Doug Holder Interviews Poet Steven Ostrowski Co-Author of Penultimate H...

Somerville's John Babin: From a numbers runner to a Civil Rights Activist

Somerville's John Babin: From a numbers runner to a Civil Rights Activist

By Doug Holder

John Babin—a thoughtful looking man in his 70s met me at my usual perch at the Bloc 11 Cafe in Somerville. I have seen him around town for many years, walking around with this broad-rimmed hat and a couple of newspapers under his arms. I had never spoken with him but after our meeting I was glad that I did. Babin, a Somerville native son, started his working career as a kid running numbers—for “gang” operations in Cambridge and the North End of Boston. Babin told me Mafia types were in involved in these operations—folks liked the notorious J. R. Russo, and Jerry Angiulo loomed in the background.  Babin made a fair amount of change during these working years, and he used the money to help finance his education at Brandeis University.

Recently Babin found out that he was included in a book concerning the Civil Rights Movement of the 6os, titled " Hope's Kids: A Voting Rights Summer" by Alan Venable.

Babin told me that in 1965—when he was an undergraduate at Brandeis studying a buffet of liberal arts courses-- subjects like philosophy, economics, etc..,  is when he joined a student organization SCOPE. This was a group that worked under the Southern Christian Leadership Conference founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, to help register black voters in the south.

Babin, and other students went down to South Carolina to work with disenfranchised black people. It was in the town of St. Matthews in Calhoun County where he was based. Babin told me the black population was basically illiterate and living in shacks. Running water was a luxury. In those day Babin explained, "Everyone talked like they had roles in "Gone With the Wind.'"

Babin said that he and his cohorts went door to door going over voter registration forms with black voters, and often steered them to literacy programs. And even though they were privileged white college students they were heartily welcomed by these people in need.

As you might expect this band of holy fools was not well-received by segments of the white community. Babin told me," On the first day there we received death threats. The sheriff claimed that the vehicles we brought down were stolen...they were not, of course. I mean-- the chief of police of the town was in the KKK.---and he deputized half the town.   Also--a man who was deemed as the 'most dangerous man in town', put a gun right in my face.. I remember being thrown in jail--I saw a pool of blood beside me when I woke up--I realized it was from the kid next to me."

Babin said the harassment grew. Someone sympathetic to this group of college students got the South Carolina State (a black college) football team to crash a KKK meeting. The Klan meeting was in full bloom in a parking-lot at a local Winn-Dixie supermarket. They were burning the requisite crosses--decked out in their nefarious white outfits. There were, according to Babin, a thousand of them. Basically the team members confronted the KKK and said if the students were harmed or killed they would be going after them. Babin smiled, "Let's just say the harassment went down significantly.."

After this Babin had a successful career as a union organizer and social worker. He told me at times he was very reluctant to talk about this time in his life because it would affect his relationship with some of the rough trade types he used to work with. But now--well, it just seemed the season.

So now when I walk down Somerville Ave., in the early morn, Babin won't be another face in the breaking dawn, but a man with a rich and rewarding history--right here --in the Paris of New England.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

The Everything Saint by Judy Katz-Levine (Word Poetry--2018)

The Everything Saint by Judy Katz-Levine  (Word Poetry--2018)

One thing I tell my creative writing students is to "notice" everything. And that is not easy to do in our mad rush--this fever dream we call life. But poet Judy-Katz Levine notices the birds cawing to her in conversation, a trembling cup of tea, her childhood of " Hard balls, sassafras, streets with bicycles...."  Her poems are wells of imagery. This work is by a poet who lives deeply in the moment.

In her poem " Embracing Time with Two Friends" she brings lyricism to an ordinary moment sitting in her friend's guest room.

Silence with a slight hire wire tone
like the whisper of crickets before dawn
and the spirit of a friend who embraces
after the theater performance
of Jane Austin's " Pride and Prejudice"
sleeps now in another room.
I'm in her guestroom with
a cold cup of tea and after a
psalm, psalm  65 and a
meditation before prints of
the artist Paul Klee and
another sunrise watercolor
a seed that sprouts in her
garden and mine--maybe her
poppies the flowers just budding just starting
to open, maybe the arugula
that is not eaten by a rabbit in mine..."

There is a poem dedicated to the late poet Denise Levertov. Levertov lived in Somerville, MA. for a number of years and taught at MIT. Levine celebrates her former teacher's spirit, passion, pacifism and legacy in her poem," On Denise And Her Work Against The Vietnam War."

...Standing on her stoop,
questioning my own motives in the Twilight, she nodded--
'don't brush it away, your questions , your doubts.' Now the
limbless come home, the hospitals a barren solace of

...Now the soldiers, servants arrive
home from Afghanistan, Iraq, trembling at a breeze as if the leaves
were covered with blood.  We question ourselves.
Though she could not plumb our depths, she could move us
far up the mountain.

Levine often brings to us what many of us sense--but are not able to express. It can leave the reader contemplating, " Ah,! sweet mystery of life."

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Interview with poet, performer, librarian David P.Miller

David P. Miller ( Right) with Doug Holder on Poet to Poet Writer to Writer

David P. Miller’s chapbook, The Afterimages, was published in 2014 by Červená Barva Press. His poems have appeared in Meat for Tea, Main Street Rag, Ibbetson Street, Painters and Poets, Fox Chase Review, Third Wednesday, Wilderness House Literary Review, Muddy River Poetry Review, Oddball Magazine, Incessant Pipe, Clementine Unbound, and Ekphrastic Review, among others. Anthology appearances include Tell-Tale Inklings #1 and three Bagel Bards Anthologies. His poem “Kneeling Woman and Dog” was included in the 2015 edition of Best Indie Lit New England. David was a member of the multidisciplinary Mobius Artists Group of Boston for 25 years, and is a librarian at Curry College in Milton, Mass. 

I had the pleasure to interview Miller on my Somerville Media Center Show,
"Poet to Poet Writer to Writer."

Doug Holder: You were influenced by the composer John Cage. How did he influence you as a poet?

David P. Miller: We can talk for hours about Cage. Cage was actually a poet and visual  artist. My influences from Cage come mostly from my years as a performance artist. The kind of experimental poetry he did seeps into my work. I admired his attention to detail to the specific kinds of phenomena he deals with in his work.

DH: You were a librarian for many years; you were a member of Mobius--an experimental arts and performance group in Boston for a long while ( now on the Board of Directors) --but the poet Jane Hirschfield jump started you into poetry.

DPM:  I have been an active poetry reader since 1990.I didn't think of myself as a poet. But in 2006 I heard that the Bookstore at the Zen Mountain Monastery in the Catskills was offering a poetry workshop with Jane Hirshfield.  So I participated. Hirshfield presented exercises, etc... but what changed in me as result of it was that I got interested in the act of writing poetry. I realized I had a basic ability to write poems based on prompts she gave. About 3 years later I started to steadily write poems.

DH: I read your poem "The House" at my creative writing seminar at Endicott College. It was reminiscent of  a poem we were studying in class-- "The Shirt" by Robert Pinsky. Like Pinsky --who traced the lineage of  a shirt in his poem--you traced your house in Jamaica Plain in a similar way. Like Pinsky, you broke up your House into its component parts--each part-a part -of the whole.

 DPM: True in some ways it is similar to Pinsky's. My house is on Mozart St. in J.P. I actually traced the chain of owners of the house for that poem.

DH: You were a librarian at Curry College in Milton, MA. for many years. Was this a good place to work at as a poet?

DPM: It was great have access to a library. Needless to say I was a strong advocate of buying poetry books. I majored in theater at Emerson College in Boston. But I never intended to pursue it professionally. I didn't want to live the hardscrabble life you need to go through to succeed in the field.   My friend Mary Curtain -who worked at the library at Emerson-- helped get me a job there. I remember clearly the first day I worked there. I was at the reference desk and someone asked me a question. I was able to answer it! I said to myself, " Wow, I am actually doing this!" Later I worked at Curry for over two decades--I retired from there in June, 2018.

{A Birthday Card for John Cage On His 100th}

a sudden rustling –
the ailanthus drops a leaf
just before sunrise

tiny prayer flags lift
in the slightest passing breeze –
late summer crickets

what’s this soft tapping?
downy woodpecker testing
October cornstalk

is it a bird’s call?
someone walking in the dark
with one squeaky shoe